Unknowns and uncertainties raise ethical concerns for UK egg freezing

September 29, 2020

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics has today published a 'bioethics briefing note' which highlights a pressing need for data on egg freezing success rates to be presented more clearly, accessibly, and transparently. At present, research suggests that women find these data difficult to navigate.

Frances Flinter, Nuffield Council member and Emeritus Professor of Clinical Genetics at Guy's and St Thomas' NHS Foundation Trust, said:

"It's vital for women thinking about freezing their eggs to be able to make informed choices. To do this, they need easy access to data on their chances of success across various stages of the process - from freezing and thawing eggs, to having a live birth. But they also need clinics to be frank about the process, and about what is known and unknown about egg freezing. This is especially important given egg freezing's increasing popularity."

Egg freezing as an employment benefit

One area where clear information and research are likely to be important in the future is where egg freezing is offered as part of an employment benefits package. Although this isn't common in the UK at present, it is beginning to be offered by some companies.

For some women, being offered egg freezing as an employment benefit could feel empowering and give a sense of being in more control over their reproductive future. For others, the offer might make them feel pressured to delay motherhood. If more employers consider providing this benefit, research needs to focus on women's needs and their experiences of using such schemes.

The Nuffield Council also highlights that offering egg freezing as part of a benefits package is not the only option for employers to support employees' reproductive choices. Improvements to family-friendly work environments, childcare subsidies, and family leave also have a key role to play.

Other conclusions

The briefing note also reports that:

The way social egg freezing is presented and marketed is potentially of concern and should be the focus of closer attention. Concerns raised on this issue include the trivialisation of egg freezing in media coverage, the role of social media influencers' promotion of the technology, the use of algorithms that target women with egg freezing adverts, and irresponsible marketing strategies, including events where egg freezing is discussed over prosecco. Research also suggests that women can feel pressure to freeze to avoid blaming themselves later. It is important that marketing strategies consider such research so that women's anxieties are not exploited.

There appear to be few arguments against increasing the storage limit for social egg freezing from its current limit of ten years. Changes to this limit are currently being considered by the Government.

Sophia Griffiths
Communications Officer
Nuffield Council on Bioethics

Notes to editors

The Nuffield Council on Bioethics is an independent body that has been advising policymakers on ethical issues in bioscience and medicine for nearly 30 years. We are funded by the Nuffield Foundation, the Medical Research Council, and Wellcome.

This is the eighth in a series of bioethics briefing notes published by the Nuffield Council on Bioethics.

Nuffield Council on Bioethics

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